It has been another miserable week in the history of Pakistan. At least 328 people have been killed in an earthquake in the province of Balochistan, just days after a suicide bomb attack led to 85 fatalities at a Christian church in Peshawar.
Whilst the earthquakes, landslides and floods that have plagued Pakistan in the past few years are an unfortunate consequence of natural forces, the mass violence that is perpetuated in every Pakistani province on a weekly basis is a testament to the uncontrolled forces of destruction that reside in the country.
The bombing of the Christian church was particularly unsavoury and worryingly a possible sign of things to come. Christians make up almost 2% of Pakistan’s population, a sizable minority, and believers show a devotion to their faith uncommon in many nominally Christian countries.
This might be attributed to the fact that Christianity in Pakistan is relatively young. It arrived with colonists when Pakistan was part of the British Raj. Unlike with China and Japan, which had been visited by prominent Jesuit missionaries from Italy, Portugal and Spain as early as the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and have long since reneged their Christian association, Christianity in Pakistan is vibrant and equally split between Catholic and Protestant denominations.
The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the Peshawar atrocity. This is unsurprising given the barbaric and repressive interpretation of Islam practiced by its members. Yet what is so astonishing is that leading Taliban operatives are currently being freed from Pakistani jails by the Islamabad government.
There is an argument, supported by some quarters in the US, that the release of Taliban ‘officials’ is a necessary precursor to securing peace talks in Afghanistan. Yet others have argued that convicted terrorists are being released straight back to their former cells where they can once more carry out atrocities such as the Peshawar bombing.
Violent deaths, generally through terrorist bombings, are commonplace in Pakistan and are not exclusively reserved for attacks against non-Muslims. The amount of sectarian and factional violence that occurs in the country is astonishing.
Having said that, despite frequent reports of atrocities, there appears to be a genuine malaise towards Pakistan by the rest of the world. The Peshawar church bombing, whilst causing initial outrage, has quickly been forgotten by the Western media. A similar scenario exists with Iraq where terrorism and bloodshed are so frequent that they are no longer newsworthy.
Whilst Iraq is acknowledged as a failed state, Pakistan does not seem to fall into that category. Despite harbouring Osama Bin Laden – probably with the help of the security forces -, providing a base from which the Taliban can operate into Afghanistan, and being home to a raft of terrorist cells, the instability of Pakistan is severely downplayed by the West.
There is a delusion amongst policymakers that Pakistani internal affairs must be left alone if terrorism is to be defeated in the region and peace is to come to Afghanistan. Yet America is happy enough to conduct frequent drone attacks against the tribal provinces bordering Afghanistan, eliminating Al-Qaeda operatives whilst simultaneously slaughtering innocent civilians. One could not ask for a more obvious interference with national sovereignty.
It is concerning that a country of such violent instability is commonly seen as a key diplomatic player in solving the region’s problems, particularly terrorism. A weak government is just as dangerous as a fanatical one. But events like the Peshawar bombing continually happen without a suggestion of a solution from foreign powers, often so quick to intervene in other states or pressurise indigenous governments.
Ignoring these all-too-frequent warnings is not a wise policy and the relatively youthful history of Christianity in Pakistan may all too soon be wiped out.